Gov. Steve Beshear last week gave Lexington something great — $6.5 million that will bring the Town Branch Trail very close to completion.
Ultimately the trail will provide a link for pedestrians and cyclists from Masterson Station Park to the western edge of downtown.
So far, 1.9 miles have been completed, from Masterson to Alexandria Drive. With funds already on hand and the federal transportation dollars pledged by Beshear, almost another two miles will be finished as well as design for the final 1.2 miles, the leg that goes through the Distillery District to Oliver Lewis Way.
Beshear's pledge is more than just a boost to finish a trail. It's a recognition of the important role livable cities must play in Kentucky's future. Vibrant, healthy urban spaces create economic activity and spur creativity. Because they make it possible for lots of people to live in a relatively compact area, urban and suburban sprawl is contained, which protects Kentucky's rural places and natural resources. Appropriately, the federal money set aside for the Town Branch Trail is earmarked for congestion and pollution mitigation.
As for the Town Branch Trail, it's a gem. Not only will people be able to bike, walk or run from recently developed suburbs into downtown, and vice versa, they will also be able to follow and learn about Lexington's history along the way.
The trail follows the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek, past McConnell Springs where Lexington was founded, or at least named. It will continue to the Distillery District, where the creek water made bourbon production possible.
Lexington sprang up along Town Branch which now flows more or less under Vine Street with its headwaters on Midland Avenue around the Jiff plant. The city's ambitious Town Branch Commons project, if realized, will bring portions of the stream to the surface as part of a linear park planned through downtown that will connect with Town Branch Trail behind Rupp Arena.
Beshear was an early and persistent champion of the project that would transform Rupp and the area around it, including bringing Town Branch to the surface there. That's on hold now, but with this commitment Beshear has reaffirmed the vision of an interconnected, livable, walkable Lexington.
Thanks, too, to the visionary volunteers of the non-profit Town Branch Trail, Inc. who conceived of this greenway and have been working for 15 years to make it a reality.